Monthly Archives: June 2014

Newsletter – May 2014













“Maybe our gig on this planet has less to do with getting all we need from life and more to do with receiving and giving what life offers us. Maybe our days might be better spent as a chalice: always being filled and pouring out – rather than as a sports car: always gassing up, trying to get somewhere and look as good as possible in the process.”

“…the subtle monks taught him a wiser notion of prayer. It’s object is not to seek God’s intervention in our favour, but to align ourselves with God’s will for us. Perhaps even…to relieve us of self-will altogether.”



May greetings, Dear Friends…

So it is spring finally in Vermont while here in New Zealand we are edging into our early winter – it actually hit freezing one night!

In last April’s Musings I shared one of the helpful learnings my friend and mentor, Elder Ed, has passed on. I’m aware his notions of “Relaxing Into Participation” and “Sources” can seem as “woo-woo” as the two quotes above. What I’ve understood recently is that his “Relaxing Into Participation” is an important technology for helping us access our unconscious levels.

I’ve chosen the word “technology” very deliberately. Don’t we all need help understanding and better managing our unconscious drives? And isn’t this especially necessary in a world so filled with so many murderous conflicts driven by what we unconsciously believe are unchangeable and hateful differences?

Seven months after defusing the Cuban Missile Crisis, John Kennedy said…

   “So, let us not be blind to our differences — but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

Fifty-one years have passed, and we are still thankfully ‘all mortal’ even though our material/intellectual technologies continue to dwarf our emotional/spiritual capabilities.

Hopefully, these Musings will help skeptics see this month’s quotes and Elder Ed’s notions as very practical life strategies as well as essential to defusing present and future threats to humanity’s mortality. To illustrate I’ll use the corporate performance appraisal process as a focus. This will be a bit of a round-the-barn trip so please stick with me…

NOTE: If you didn’t see the last newsletter, here’s a summary of what Elder Ed offered; if you did, you can skip ahead…


   “As intellectual as my Musings may be, relaxing into our maturity and experience is of a different nature. Intellect wants to be in control. Maturity does not. My solitude has helped me understand Elder Ed’s (my friend and mentor who is now 96) suggestion of RIP. By this he means “Relaxing Into Participation” with the Universe, Oneness, etc. (whatever you want to call it will do) which means surrendering the notion of being in control.

   “That’s a real stretch, isn’t it?

   “Haven’t you always sought ways to be in control? I have. And now I’m slowly giving them up and accepting that the human condition is not one of being in control. With Elder Ed’s help I’ve experienced the power in this acceptance, and, once our egos can also understand and accept this truth, they, too, are glad to give up the terrible burden of the polarized reality they’ve been carrying for so long. It is not pleasant to strive to be in control once you accept that is impossible.

The benefits are simple, but like most very simple truths, cannot be understood until one has lived the experience, in this case truly surrendering our absurd attempts at control. This process of unlearning deeply imprinted patterns in our unconscious is no simple feat!

   “When you Relax Into Participation your unique Sources will speak to you; that is, guidance and understanding will come from levels unavailable to the controlling rational mind. We can only open to them by acknowledging we are not in control. This is what Elder Ed has gifted me with, and I hope to share that gift with you…”



Over twenty-five years of corporate consulting, I’ve worked a lot with people who had to take part in the annual ritual of performance appraisal. The sad fact is that most employees (both bosses and subordinates) approach these opportunities for feedback and growth with terrible feelings of trepidation. Where does all this fear come from? It comes from early “imprintings” of our unconscious.


What are these “imprintings”? How do these imprintings get into our unconscious? And how do they impact our behavior decades later?

Think of your unconscious as being so tough that it doesn’t take on just any impression. A good way to imagine it is like a slab of marble that’s tough enough so most experiences slide off and don’t leave much of a mark. But when an experience comes along with enough energy – and the energy is emotion – the experience uses the power of the emotion to engrave itself in the marble. In engineering we call this making a template; in psychology we say this engraving forms an “archetype” in the unconscious. Once an “archetype” is formed, it then shapes how we will experience events with similar characteristics in the future.

Konrad Lorenz, the famous biologist, demonstrated the phenomenon of imprinting in an ingenious way:

   “In 1935 Lorenz described learning behaviour in young ducklings and goslings. He observed that at a certain critical stage soon after hatching, they learn to follow real or foster parents. The process, which is called imprinting, involves visual and auditory stimuli from the parent object; these elicit a following response in the young that affects their subsequent adult behaviour. Lorenz demonstrated the phenomenon by appearing before newly hatched mallard ducklings and imitating a mother duck’s quacking sounds, upon which the young birds regarded him as their mother and followed him accordingly.” -David B. Johnson, MD

For these little ducklings, Lorenz became their “archetype” of mother. Our unconscious is full of such archetypes, and they drive our behavior throughout our lives – sometimes helpfully, but often inappropriately, too.


Here’s a simple explanation of how our unconscious is formed. Imagine the conscious and unconscious are like an iceberg. The tip that shows above the ocean surface is the conscious part of us, the “I”. This is the part of us we often think is all of us. This is a big mistake. Most of the psyche (the unconscious) is below our surface just as nine-tenths of an iceberg is below the surface of the ocean. And of course, as the arrogant designers of the Titanic learned, that is where the real danger (and power) lies.


In our psyches, there are four levels, and it helps to think of these as levels of an iceberg…


     – We mistakenly believe this “I” is truly “Us”


     – It is created by unique personal imprintings


     – It is created by culturally shared imprintings


     – It is created by our species shared imprintings

Now let’s take a closer look at the levels of our iceberg we can’t see directly…


The Personal Unconscious means just what its name implies; it’s unique to each person because it is formed by uniquely individual experiences that we alone have had, and therefore are not shared or “imprinted” by others.

Here’s an example of how imprinting of the Personal Unconscious happens. Imagine you’re three years old and out in the backyard just having a wonderful time playing by yourself. The neighbors arrive home with a new black Labrador puppy that stands just about as tall as you, and when they open the back door of the station wagon, it bounds out, sees you and, in its eagerness to play, dashes toward you. Your back is turned so you don’t see it coming, but suddenly you hear something akin to an approaching stampede. The next thing you know you are knocked flat on your back, there’s a mass of black fur over you, frightening warm breath, a moist tongue going slurp, slurp, slurp across your face – and TERROR! The energy of the terror is what imprints this experience in your unconscious.

Now, let’s say you’re about seven years old playing in the living room, and Aunt Elizabeth comes to visit wearing a black fur coat. She enters the living room quietly (you don’t see or hear her coming), swoops you up from behind against the black fur coat, breathes in your face and gives you a big moist kiss – and you go bonkers! Why? Because you’re not with Aunt Elizabeth; you’re re-experiencing the terror that came from the imprinting of the constellation of black fur, warm breath and moist tongue years ago. Mom, who’s the on-site manager in this situation, says, “You be nice and give your Aunt Elizabeth a hug.” Mom can’t manage because she doesn’t understand you are in a totally separate and uniquely personal reality at that moment.

This is the difficulty of the Personal Unconscious. Because it is so unique and personal, we don’t know when another’s behavior is being directed from that level of the unconscious. The best we can do is become close enough to those we care about so we can gain some understanding of what archetypes live in them and when those archetypes get triggered. This requires an investment in intimacy and connection, of which psychotherapy is a commercial example and helpful to many. Sadly, in patriarchal cultures, women have developed far greater skills of intimacy than men, and so understand and work with the Personal Unconscious far more effectively than their male counterparts (thank God mothers do most of the raising of our children!). This massive macho and cultural liability is what Matthew Fox was referring to organizationally in early 2003 when he asked and answered:

   Q: “What do Enron, the Roman Catholic Church and the Bush Administration have in common?

   A: “They suffer from an excess of patriarchy.”


The Cultural Unconscious is much easier to read and more easily made use of in terms of serving – or manipulating – groups of people. This is because people who grow up in the same culture are imprinted with common cultural experiences. Some of these shared imprintings are very helpful; others can be very destructive. For example, let’s look at how one such imprinting contributes to the epidemic of stress we Americans are currently experiencing.

Over the many years I consulted in corporate America, I often helped people cope with the complex anxieties accompanying performance appraisals (finally we get back to why so much trepidation and anxiety around this omnipresent organizational ritual – which, in theory, ought to a growth opportunity for everyone involved!). Here’s where our culturally imprinted archetype for performance appraisals comes from.

Think back – what was the first time in your life when your performance was appraised in writing and significant emotion was present?

That’s right. Report cards.


When I was a kid, report cards were more honest in that they gave two sets of grades – one for how well you performed, and one for how well the teacher liked you. The first was generally expressed in the letters A-B-C-D-F, symbolizing maximum achievement to minimum or unsatisfactory achievement. The second, variously called Effort, Citizenship and Deportment, was expressed in the numbers 1-2-3-4-5, symbolizing maximum effort to minimum or unsatisfactory effort:

               ACHIEVEMENT           EFFORT

                           A                             1

                           B                             2

                           C                             3

                           D                            4

                           F                            5

Since most of us spent our childhood and adolescence in school, that imprinting was not only done when we were very young but was repeated year after year after year. And what is the perfect report card in that system?


But when you step back for a moment and look again, A-1 is silly and stupid. Why? Because it leads us to believe that excellence equals maximum achievement with maximum effort.


Once we see it, A-5 is obviously a vast improvement over an A-1 belief system that drives us crazy by making us think we can never do enough. But here’s the Catch-22: while A-5 may make perfect sense rationally, imprinting causes us to behave irrationally, just as in the story of the black Labrador puppy and Aunt Elizabeth. So what’s going on with this A-1/A-5 stuff anyway? The simple answer is its driving us nuts! And the major way it does this is to teach us we can never do enough because no matter how high the achievement, we could always have put in more effort, couldn’t we?


I’ll use myself as an example. I teach this stuff, right? If anyone should be able to appreciate A-5 in another person, it ought to be me. Let me tell you another story. Cindi Crutchfield ran the business aspects of our small consulting company for many years because I was smart enough to know that if I ran it, we wouldn’t have company for very long. Somewhere around the sixth or seventh year we worked together, we were having a good deal of success, and this resulted in my spending much time on the road which got me pretty stressed and strung out. (There’s nothing like a little stress to help your imprinting show up!) Well, during a stretch of about three weeks traveling, one day I called the office and Cindi wasn’t there. In my frustration and impatience, I left her this message on the answering machine:

“Where the hell are you? I’m out here working my butt off, and you’re not even in the office!”

When I got back into the office later that week, Cindi still wasn’t there, but over her desk was a large sign:


                                                                       I AM AN



From that point on I had to look at that sign whenever she wasn’t sitting at her desk.


The Species Unconscious is much harder to know. For some, it’s as real as the notions of the ego, personality or soul. For others it’s a fairy-tale fantasy mainly traceable to Carl Jung. One way the Species Unconscious can be glimpsed is through interpretation of symbols. Jung and others have found there are certain symbols (such as the circle) that elicit similar meanings from the unconscious no matter where you go. Whether you show the circle to an aborigine or to a cynical New Yorker, it evokes meanings of completeness, wholeness and “holiness” (as in the use of the halo).

I think Jung was right about a deeper collective and foundational layer of the unconscious that is passed on as part of our genetic membership in the species. I won’t try to prove or defend this; it’s simply what I believe – feel free to disagree. The main reasons I choose to believe in the Species Unconscious are because I experience it in myself and it gives me hope for the continuing evolution of our species – it opens possibilities for communication across cultures and across language differences that can open doorways of shared understanding, caring and love…

So now back to Elder Ed’s gift. What I’ve understood is that his “Relaxing Into Participation” is an important technology for helping us access our unconscious levels. I’ve chosen the word “technology” very deliberately. Doesn’t it help to see these seemingly “woo-woo” processes as both practical and essential in this terribly polarized world so filled with nuclear weapons?

Don’t we need breakthrough inter-personal and intra-personal technology to manage the devastating hatreds our emotional immaturities are fueling?

Don’t breakthrough technologies always require releasing of dangerously obsolete unconscious imprintings – like the world being flat?

And why shouldn’t we have to cope with “woo-woo” possibilities to evolve as far on the emotional and spiritual planes as we have done on the material and intellectual?

Here again are the articles for this month – they all offer useful perspectives on ways we might better use our A-5 abilities that RIP opens us up to – and there’s a lot here this month, so I remind you it’s meant to be a full month’s worth of reading – enjoy…







Much love, FW

PS: If you’d like to read a fascinating interpretation of the Cuban Missile Crisis that illustrates a search for such breakthrough inter-personal and intra-personal technologies, read William Nicholson’s novel “Reckless” about that time. And if you haven’t seen the 1974 film “The Missiles of October”, I recommend watching it first.




Service doesn’t start when you have something to give; it blossoms naturally when you have nothing left to take. –Nipun Mehta

[When the student body of an elite private school in Silicon Valley was given the chance to vote on who would give their graduation address this year, they chose a man named Nipun Mehta. An unexpected choice for these teenagers, who belong to what Time magazine called the “Me Me Me Generation”. Nipun’s journey is the antithesis of self-serving. More than a decade ago, he walked away from a lucrative career in high-tech, to explore the connection between inner change and external impact. ServiceSpace, the nonprofit he founded, has now drawn over 450,000 members across the globe. In this electrifying address that garnered a standing ovation, he calls out the paradoxical crisis of disconnection in our hyper-connected world — and offers up three powerful keys that hold the antidote.]

Thank you Jennifer Gargano, Chris Nikoloff and the entire faculty at Harker. To you, the class of 2013, congratulations! I’m delighted to be with you on your special day, and it is a particular honor since I know you chose your speaker.

So, graduation day is here and this once-in-a-lifetime milestone moment has arrived. In the words of Taylor Swift, I can tell how you’re feeling: “happy, free, confused, and lonely, miserable and magical at the same time.” Who would’ve thought we’d be quoting words of wisdom from Taylor Swift at your commencement. 🙂

Today, I’m here with some good news and bad news. I’ll give you the good first.

You might be surprised to hear this, but you are about to step out into a world that’s in good shape — in fact the best shape that that it’s ever been in. The average person has never been better fed than today. Infant mortality has never been lower; on average we’re leading longer, healthier lives. Child labor, illiteracy and unsafe water have ceased to be global norms. Democracy is in, as slavery is disappearing. People don’t have to work as hard to just survive. A bicycle in 1895 used to cost 260 working hours, today we’ve gotten that number down to 7.2.

So, things are progressing. But I’m afraid that’s not the full story.   You’ll want to brace yourselves, because this is the bad news part.

This week, Time Magazine’s cover story labeled you guys as the “Me, Me, Me” generation; the week before, NY Times reported that the suicide rate for Gen X went up by 30% in the last decade, and 50% for the boomer generation. We’ve just learned that atmospheric carbon levels surpassed 400 PPM for the first time in human history. Our honeybee colonies are collapsing, thereby threatening the future of our food supply. And all this is just the tip of the iceberg.

What we’re handing over to you is a world full of inspiring realities coupled with incredibly daunting ones. In other words: miserable and magical isn’t just a pop-song lyric — it’s the paradox that you are inheriting from us.

So, what do you do with that? I’m going to be honest — I don’t really know. 🙂 I do know this, though:

At the core of all of today’s most pressing challenges is one fundamental issue: we have become profoundly disconnected.

Rather ironic, considering that we live in an era where Facebook has spawned 150 billion “connections”, as we collectively shell out 4.5 billion likes on status updates, every single day. Yet, a growing body of science is showing what we already feel deep in our gut: we’re more isolated than ever before. The average American adult reports having just one real friend that they can count on. Just one. And for the first time in 30 years, mental health disabilities such as ADHD outrank physical ones among American children.

Somehow we’ve allowed our relationship to gadgets and things to overtake our real-world ties.

We’ve forgotten how to rescue each other.

Yet, deep inside we all still have that capacity.   We know we have it because we saw it at Sandy Hook, in the brave teachers who gave up their lives to save their students. We saw it during the Boston Marathon when runners completed the race and kept running to the nearest blood bank. We saw it just this week in Oklahoma when a waiter at a fast food chain decided to donate all his tips to the tornado relief efforts and triggered a chain of generosity.

So we know that we can tap into our inner goodness when crisis strikes. But can we do it on a run-of-the-mill Monday?

That’s the question in front of you. Will you, class of 2013 step up to rebuild a culture of trust, empathy and compassion? Our crisis of disconnection needs a renaissance of authentic friendship. We need you to upgrade us from Me-Me-Me to We-We-We.

Reflecting on my own journey, there have been three keys that helped me return to a place of connection. I’d like to share those with you today, in the hope that perhaps it might support your journey.


In the movie Wall Street — which originally came out well before you guys were born — there’s a character named Gordon Gekko whose credo in life reads: Greed is good. When I was about your age, Silicon Valley was in the seductive grip of the dot-com boom. It was a time when it was easy to believe that Greed was Good. But a small group of us had a different hypothesis:

*Maybe* greed is good, but Generosity is better.

We tested that hypothesis. When I started ServiceSpace, our first project was to build websites for nonprofits at no charge. We ended up building and gifting away thousands of sites, but that wasn’t our main goal. Our real purpose was to practice generosity.

In the early days, the media was pretty sure we had a hidden agenda. “We’re doing this just to practice giving with no strings attached,” we said. The few who actually believed us didn’t think we could sustain it. The thing is — we did. A decade later, when our work started attracting millions of viewers, entrepreneurs told us that we’d be crazy to not slap on ads or try to monetize our services. The thing is — we didn’t. We probably *were* a bit crazy. And when we started Karma Kitchen, people really thought “No way!” It was a restaurant where your check always read zero, with this note: “Your meal is paid for by someone before you, and now it’s your chance to pay it forward.” The thing is — 25 thousand meals later, the chain continues in several cities around the globe.

People consistently underestimate generosity, but human beings are simply wired to give.

In one study at Harvard, scientists surprised a couple hundred volunteers with an unexpected monetary reward and gave them the choice of keeping it or giving it away. The only catch was that they had to make the decision spontaneously. Lo and behold, the majority chose — to give away the money! Greed, it turns out, is a calculated after thought. Our natural instinct is, and always has been — to give.

When you take Econ 101 in college, you will learn that all of economics is rooted in the assumption that people aim to maximize self-interest. I hope you don’t just take that for granted. I hope you challenge it. Consider the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. and Mother Teresa who have rocked the history of our planet with the exact opposite assumption, with the belief in the goodness of our human nature.

Or consider Ruby Bridges.

Six-year-old Ruby was the first African American girl to go to an all-white school on Nov 14, 1960. All the teachers refused to teach her, except for one Mrs. Henry. Ruby received constant death threats and on the way to class every day, people would line up to shout and throw things. Mrs. Henry instructed Ruby to not speak to anyone, as she crossed the jeering crowds every day. But one day, she saw Ruby saying something, so she said, “Ruby, I told you not to speak to anyone.” “No, Mrs. Henry, I didn’t say anything to them.” “Ruby, I saw you talking. I saw your lips moving.” “Oh, I was just praying. I was praying for them,” Ruby responded. Then she recited her prayer, and I quote “Please, God, try to forgive these people. Because even if they say those bad things, they don’t know what they’re doing.”

A six year old! Wishing well for those who were wishing her harm. How generous is that? And what does it say about the power of the human heart?

Our capacity to love is a currency that never runs out.

May each of you tap into that generous ocean and discover every day, what it means to give.


When we give, we think we are helping others. That’s true, but we are also helping ourselves. With any act of unconditional service, no matter how small, our bio-chemistry changes, our mind quiets, and we feel a sense of gratefulness. This inner transformation fundamentally shifts the direction of our lives.

A couple summers ago, we had two 14-year-olds, Neil and Dillan, interning at ServiceSpace. One of their projects was a 30 day kindness challenge — they had to come up with and do a different act of kindness every day for a month. In the beginning they had to plan “kindness activities”, but slowly they learned how to spontaneously turn their daily life into a canvas for giving. Doing the dishes for mom without her asking, stopping to help a stranger with a flat tire, standing up for a bullied kid, gifting all their winnings at the arcade to a child.

Very quickly, kindness shifted from being an activity — to a way of life.

It wasn’t just about who they were helping, it was about who they themselves were becoming through the process. Last weekend, I happened to see Neil after a while, the day after Senior Prom and he had a story to share, “Last night I noticed that the dance floor was too small and a few of the special needs students just couldn’t get on. So I grabbed a bunch of my friends, and we started dancing in a little circle around them. Everyone had a great time.” Then, he paused for a reflective moment, and asked me, “But I felt so good about doing that. Do you think I was being selfish?”

What a profound question. What Neil experienced was the fact that when we give, we receive many times over.

Or as the Dalai Lama once put it, “Be Selfish, Be Generous.” It is in giving that we receive.

When we think of generosity, we typically think of it as a zero sum game. If I give you a dollar, that’s one less dollar for me. The inner world, though, operates with an entirely different set of rules. The boundaries aren’t so easy to decipher. Your state of being inherently affects my state of being. This isn’t feel-good talk. It’s actual science. Research shows that, in close proximity, when people feel connected, their individual heart-beats actually start to synchronize — even with zero physical contact. In neuroscience, the discovery of mirror neurons has shown us that we literally do feel each other’s pain — and joy.

And joy is *definitely* not a zero-sum game. The law of abundance says that if I give you a smile, that’s not one less smile for me.

The more I smile, the more I *do* smile. The more I love, the more love I have to give. So, when you give externally, you receive internally. How do the two compare? That’s a question only you can answer for yourself, and that answer will keep changing as your awareness deepens.

Yet this much is clear: if you only focus on the externals, you’ll live your life in the deadening pursuit of power and products. But if you stay in touch with your inner truth, you will come alive with joy, purpose, and gratitude. You will tap into the law of abundance.

May you discover that to be truly selfish, you must be generous. In giving, may you fully experience what it means to receive.


Our biggest problem with giving and receiving is that we try and track it. And when we do that, we lose the beat.

The best dancers are never singularly focused on the mechanics of their movements. They know how to let go, tune into the rhythm and synchronize with their partners.

It’s like that with giving too. It’s a futile exercise to track who is getting what. We just have to dance.

Take one of my friends for example, a very successful entrepreneur.

Along his journey, he realized that it’s not just enough, as the cliché goes, to find your gifts. Gifts are actually meant to be *given*.

In his daily life, he started cultivating some beautiful practices of generosity. For instance, every time he walked into a fancy restaurant, he told the waiter to find a couple that is most madly in love. “Put their tab on my bill, and tell them a stranger paid for their meal, with the hope that they pay it forward somewhere somehow,” he would say. Being a fan of Batman, he took his anonymity seriously: “If anyone finds out it was me, the deal is off.”

Many restaurants, and waiters, knew him for this. And as a food connoisseur, some of his favorite places were also quite pricey — upwards of a couple hundred bucks per person.

On one such day, he walks into a nice restaurant and does his usual drill. The person serving him obliges. However, this time, the waiter comes back with a counter request. “Sir, I know you like to be anonymous, but when I told that couple about the tab being covered, the woman just started sobbing. In fact, it’s been ten minutes and she’s still tearing up. I think it would make her feel better if you were to just introduce yourself, just this once.”

Seeing this, he agree to break his own cardinal rule and walks over to introduce himself. “Ma’am, I was only trying to make your day. If it has brought up something, I’m so sorry.” The woman excitedly says, “Oh no, not at all. You’ve just made my year, maybe my life. My husband and I, well, we work at a small nonprofit with physically challenged kids, and we have been saving up all year to have this meal here. It is our one year marriage anniversary today.” After a pause, she continues, “We always serve others in small ways, but to receive a kind act like this on our special day, well, it’s just an overwhelming testimonial that what goes around comes around. It renews our faith in humanity. Thank you. Thank you *SO* much.”

All of them were in tears. They kept in touch, he joined their board and they are friends to this day.

Now, in that scenario, who was the giver? Who was the receiver? And more importantly, does it even matter? Dancing, tells us to stop keeping track.

Sometimes you’re giving and sometimes you’re receiving, but it doesn’t really matter because the real reward of that give and take doesn’t lie in the value of what’s being exchanged. The real reward lies in what flows between us – our connection.


So, my dear friends, there you have it. The bad news is that we’re in the middle of a crisis of disconnection, and the good news is that each and every one of you has the capacity to repair the web — to give, to receive and to dance.

Sometime last year, I spontaneously treated a homeless woman to something she really wanted — ice-cream. We walked into a nearby 7-11, she got her ice-cream and I paid for it. Along the way, though, we had a great 3-minute chat about generosity and as we’re leaving the store, she said something remarkable: “I’d like to buy you something. Can I buy you something?” She empties her pockets and holds up a nickel. The cashier looks on, as we all share a beautiful, awkward, empathy-filled moment of silence. Then, I heard my voice responding, “That’s so kind of you. I would be delighted to receive your offering. What if we pay-it-forward by tipping this kind cashier who has just helped us?” Her face breaks into a huge smile. “Good idea,” she says while dropping the nickel into the tip-jar.

No matter what you have, or don’t have, we can all give. The good news is that generosity is not a luxury sport.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best, when he said, “Everyone can be great, because everyone can serve.” He didn’t say, “You have to be smart to serve.” Or “You have to be famous to serve.” Or “You have to be rich to serve.” No, he said, “*Everybody* can be great, because *everybody* can serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You don’t need to know the second law of thermodynamics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

Harker Class of 2013, may you ALL find greatness in service to life. May you all give, receive — and never, *ever* stop dancing.


This is a transcript of a commencement address Nipun Mehta delivered at The Harker School, May 2013. He is the founder of, a nonprofit that works at the intersection of gift-economy, technology and volunteerism. Nipun’s speech last year at University of Pennsylvania’s commencement shares more about his personal journey.




“God’s joy moves from unmarked box to unmarked box.” Rumi

“I got rhythm! Who could ask for anything more?” I got the sun in the morning and the moon at night.” “All you need is love, ra-ta-da-ta-da…” “All I ever need is you.” “Love is all we need.” And on and on…

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Nice thoughts,” you say, “when you’re feeling inspired or romantic. Sweet sentiments when things are sailing your way. Pleasant outlook when you’re feeling happy and carefree. But what about when you’re hungry? Or out of work? Or sick? Or just went through – or are facing – the death of a loved one? Then, is love really all we need?”

Poets, philosophers, theologians, scriptures and singer-songwriters are not always so Pollyanna as to imply that love, all by itself, will see you through – will take care of all your needs. These artists and guides are clear that pain is real and suffering cannot be denied. But the feeling still shines through again and again from these teachers, that, somehow, love can lead the way to whatever it is that we need.

Maybe our gig on this planet has less to do with getting all we need from life and more to do with receiving and giving what life offers us. Maybe our days might be better spent as a chalice: always being filled and pouring out – rather than as a sports car: always gassing up, trying to get somewhere and look as good as possible in the process.

Not that we can sit on our sweet butts and expect life to carry us through; but there’s something to be said for enjoying the rhythm, the sun in the morning, the moon at night and whatever love comes your way.

One of Howard’s favorite pastimes is having dinner with friends.   For 40 years, Howard has lived in a Living Cooperative called “Hanger Hall” with 13-15 good people. So when these and others gather around the table for wine and food, Howard is in his glory. Soon, the dinners will move from inside to poolside and the outdoor fun will begin. After dinner skinny-dipping, of course, is never out of the question.




Last month, Brendan Nyhan, a professor of political science at Dartmouth, published the results of a study that he and a team of pediatricians and political scientists had been working on for three years. They had followed a group of almost two thousand parents, all of whom had at least one child under the age of seventeen, to test a simple relationship: Could various pro-vaccination campaigns change parental attitudes toward vaccines? Each household received one of four messages: a leaflet from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stating that there had been no evidence linking the measles, mumps, and rubella (M.M.R.) vaccine and autism; a leaflet from the Vaccine Information Statement on the dangers of the diseases that the M.M.R. vaccine prevents; photographs of children who had suffered from the diseases; and a dramatic story from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about an infant who almost died of measles. A control group did not receive any information at all. The goal was to test whether facts, science, emotions, or stories could make people change their minds.

The result was dramatic: a whole lot of nothing. None of the interventions worked. The first leaflet—focussed on a lack of evidence connecting vaccines and autism—seemed to reduce misperceptions about the link, but it did nothing to affect intentions to vaccinate. It even decreased intent among parents who held the most negative attitudes toward vaccines, a phenomenon known as the backfire effect. The other two interventions fared even worse: the images of sick children increased the belief that vaccines cause autism, while the dramatic narrative somehow managed to increase beliefs about the dangers of vaccines. “It’s depressing,” Nyhan said. “We were definitely depressed,” he repeated, after a pause.

Nyhan’s interest in false beliefs dates back to early 2000, when he was a senior at Swarthmore. It was the middle of a messy Presidential campaign, and he was studying the intricacies of political science. “The 2000 campaign was something of a fact-free zone,” he said. Along with two classmates, Nyhan decided to try to create a forum dedicated to debunking political lies. The result was Spinsanity, a fact-checking site that presaged venues like PolitiFact and the Annenberg Policy Center’s For four years, the trio plugged along. Their work was popular—it was syndicated by Salon and the Philadelphia Inquirer, and it led to a best-selling book—but the errors persisted. And so Nyhan, who had already enrolled in a doctorate program in political science at Duke, left Spinsanity behind to focus on what he now sees as the more pressing issue: If factual correction is ineffective, how can you make people change their misperceptions? The 2014 vaccine study was part of a series of experiments designed to answer the question.

Until recently, attempts to correct false beliefs haven’t had much success. Stephan Lewandowsky, a psychologist at the University of Bristol whose research into misinformation began around the same time as Nyhan’s, conducted a review of misperception literature through 2012. He found much speculation, but, apart from his own work and the studies that Nyhan was conducting, there was little empirical research. In the past few years, Nyhan has tried to address this gap by using real-life scenarios and news in his studies: the controversy surrounding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the questioning of Obama’s birth certificate, and anti-G.M.O. activism. Traditional work in this area has focussed on fictional stories told in laboratory settings, but Nyhan believes that looking at real debates is the best way to learn how persistently incorrect views of the world can be corrected.

One thing he learned early on is that not all errors are created equal. Not all false information goes on to become a false belief—that is, a more lasting state of incorrect knowledge—and not all false beliefs are difficult to correct. Take astronomy. If someone asked you to explain the relationship between the Earth and the sun, you might say something wrong: perhaps that the sun rotates around the Earth, rising in the east and setting in the west. A friend who understands astronomy may correct you. It’s no big deal; you simply change your belief.

But imagine living in the time of Galileo, when understandings of the Earth-sun relationship were completely different, and when that view was tied closely to ideas of the nature of the world, the self, and religion. What would happen if Galileo tried to correct your belief? The process isn’t nearly as simple. The crucial difference between then and now, of course, is the importance of the misperception. When there’s no immediate threat to our understanding of the world, we change our beliefs. It’s when that change contradicts something we’ve long held as important that problems occur.

In those scenarios, attempts at correction can indeed be tricky. In a study from 2013, Kelly Garrett and Brian Weeks looked to see if political misinformation—specifically, details about who is and is not allowed to access your electronic health records—that was corrected immediately would be any less resilient than information that was allowed to go uncontested for a while. At first, it appeared as though the correction did cause some people to change their false beliefs. But, when the researchers took a closer look, they found that the only people who had changed their views were those who were ideologically predisposed to disbelieve the fact in question. If someone held a contrary attitude, the correction not only didn’t work—it made the subject more distrustful of the source. A climate-change study from 2012 found a similar effect. Strong partisanship affected how a story about climate change was processed, even if the story was apolitical in nature, such as an article about possible health ramifications from a disease like the West Nile Virus, a potential side effect of change. If information doesn’t square with someone’s prior beliefs, he discards the beliefs if they’re weak and discards the information if the beliefs are strong.

Even when we think we’ve properly corrected a false belief, the original exposure often continues to influence our memory and thoughts. In a series of studies, Lewandowsky and his colleagues at the University of Western Australia asked university students to read the report of a liquor robbery that had ostensibly taken place in Australia’s Northern Territory. Everyone read the same report, but in some cases racial information about the perpetrators was included and in others it wasn’t. In one scenario, the students were led to believe that the suspects were Caucasian, and in another that they were Aboriginal. At the end of the report, the racial information either was or wasn’t retracted. Participants were then asked to take part in an unrelated computer task for half an hour. After that, they were asked a number of factual questions (“What sort of car was found abandoned?”) and inference questions (“Who do you think the attackers were?”). After the students answered all of the questions, they were given a scale to assess their racial attitudes toward Aboriginals.

Everyone’s memory worked correctly: the students could all recall the details of the crime and could report precisely what information was or wasn’t retracted. But the students who scored highest on racial prejudice continued to rely on the racial misinformation that identified the perpetrators as Aboriginals, even though they knew it had been corrected. They answered the factual questions accurately, stating that the information about race was false, and yet they still relied on race in their inference responses, saying that the attackers were likely Aboriginal or that the store owner likely had trouble understanding them because they were Aboriginal. This was, in other words, a laboratory case of the very dynamic that Nyhan identified: strongly held beliefs continued to influence judgment, despite correction attempts—even with a supposedly conscious awareness of what was happening.

In a follow-up, Lewandowsky presented a scenario that was similar to the original experiment, except now, the Aboriginal was a hero who disarmed the would-be robber. This time, it was students who had scored lowest in racial prejudice who persisted in their reliance on false information, in spite of any attempt at correction. In their subsequent recollections, they mentioned race more frequently, and incorrectly, even though they knew that piece of information had been retracted. False beliefs, it turns out, have little to do with one’s stated political affiliations and far more to do with self-identity: What kind of person am I, and what kind of person do I want to be? All ideologies are similarly affected.

It’s the realization that persistently false beliefs stem from issues closely tied to our conception of self that prompted Nyhan and his colleagues to look at less traditional methods of rectifying misinformation. Rather than correcting or augmenting facts, they decided to target people’s beliefs about themselves. In a series of studies that they’ve just submitted for publication, the Dartmouth team approached false-belief correction from a self-affirmation angle, an approach that had previously been used for fighting prejudice and low self-esteem. The theory, pioneered by Claude Steele, suggests that, when people feel their sense of self threatened by the outside world, they are strongly motivated to correct the misperception, be it by reasoning away the inconsistency or by modifying their behavior. For example, when women are asked to state their gender before taking a math or science test, they end up performing worse than if no such statement appears, conforming their behavior to societal beliefs about female math-and-science ability. To address this so-called stereotype threat, Steele proposes an exercise in self-affirmation: either write down or say aloud positive moments from your past that reaffirm your sense of self and are related to the threat in question. Steele’s research suggests that affirmation makes people far more resilient and high performing, be it on an S.A.T., an I.Q. test, or at a book-club meeting.

Normally, self-affirmation is reserved for instances in which identity is threatened in direct ways: race, gender, age, weight, and the like. Here, Nyhan decided to apply it in an unrelated context: Could recalling a time when you felt good about yourself make you more broad-minded about highly politicized issues, like the Iraq surge or global warming? As it turns out, it would. On all issues, attitudes became more accurate with self-affirmation, and remained just as inaccurate without. That effect held even when no additional information was presented—that is, when people were simply asked the same questions twice, before and after the self-affirmation.

Still, as Nyhan is the first to admit, it’s hardly a solution that can be applied easily outside the lab. “People don’t just go around writing essays about a time they felt good about themselves,” he said. And who knows how long the effect lasts—it’s not as though we often think good thoughts and then go on to debate climate change.

But, despite its unwieldiness, the theory may still be useful. Facts and evidence, for one, may not be the answer everyone thinks they are: they simply aren’t that effective, given how selectively they are processed and interpreted. Instead, why not focus on presenting issues in a way keeps broader notions out of it—messages that are not political, not ideological, not in any way a reflection of who you are?

Take the example of the burgeoning raw-milk movement. So far, it’s a relatively fringe phenomenon, but if it spreads it threatens to undo the health benefits of more than a century of pasteurization. The C.D.C. calls raw milk “one of the world’s most dangerous food products,” noting that improperly handled raw milk is responsible for almost three times as many hospitalizations as any other food-borne illness. And yet raw-milk activists are becoming increasingly vocal—and the supposed health benefits of raw milk are gaining increased support. To prevent the idea from spreading even further, Nyhan advises, advocates of pasteurization shouldn’t dwell on the misperceptions, lest they “inadvertently draw more attention to the counterclaim.” Instead, they should create messaging that self-consciously avoids any broader issues of identity, pointing out, for example, that pasteurized milk has kept children healthy for a hundred years.

I asked Nyhan if a similar approach would work with vaccines. He wasn’t sure—for the present moment, at least. “We may be past that point with vaccines,” he told me. “For now, while the issue is already so personalized in such a public way, it’s hard to find anything that will work.” The message that could be useful for raw milk, he pointed out, cuts another way in the current vaccine narrative: the diseases are bad, but people now believe that the vaccines, unlike pasteurized milk, are dangerous. The longer the narrative remains co-opted by prominent figures with little to no actual medical expertise—the Jenny McCarthys of the world—the more difficult it becomes to find a unified, non-ideological theme. The message can’t change unless the perceived consensus among figures we see as opinion and thought leaders changes first.

And that, ultimately, is the final, big piece of the puzzle: the cross-party, cross-platform unification of the country’s élites, those we perceive as opinion leaders, can make it possible for messages to spread broadly. The campaign against smoking is one of the most successful public-interest fact-checking operations in history. But, if smoking were just for Republicans or Democrats, change would have been far more unlikely. It’s only after ideology is put to the side that a message itself can change, so that it becomes decoupled from notions of self-perception.

Vaccines, fortunately, aren’t political. “They’re not inherently linked to ideology,” Nyhan said. “And that’s good. That means we can get to a consensus.” Ignoring vaccination, after all, can make people of every political party, and every religion, just as sick.




As someone who was only twelve in 1998, it’s been fascinating to read the reflections and retrospective analysis sparked by Monica Lewinsky’s re-emergence into the public sphere. In her new Vanity Fair article, Lewinsky reserves special blame for feminists who failed to show up for her. Here’s a roundup of pieces by feminists — some of whom were old enough to understand and be very affected by the scandal at the time – exploring what went down in the late ’90s and reflecting on what has — and hasn’t — changed in the 16 years since.

Jessica Bennett:

   To look back on the specifics now is mind-blowing. The Wall Street Journal referred to Lewinsky – in print – as a “little tart.” New York Magazine reported that, as an adolescent, Lewinsky had spent two summers at fat camp, where she “paid particular attention to the boys.” (Code word: Slut.) Maureen Dowd won a Pulitzer Prize for her coverage of Lewinsky, in which she called her a “ditzy, predatory White House intern” and “the girl who was too tubby to be in the high school ‘in’ crowd,” among other ugly caricatures. Fox News actually released a poll investigating whether the public thought Lewinsky was an “average girl” or a “young tramp looking for thrills.” Fifty four percent rated her a tramp.

 […] Indeed, it wasn’t just Bill Clinton who didn’t even grant Lewinsky the dignity of using her name when he finally, partially, admitted the affair. (She was “That Woman” – as in, “I didn’t have sexual relations with that woman.”) There were no websites like Jezebel back then, no feminist bloggers, no Women’s Media Center to call out sexism in the press. And so the media vilified her, painting her as that scary feminine trope: the crazy, emotional Single White Female – or, to borrow the phrase from the political sex scandal before her, “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty.” “This is all sort of part of the water at the time, where the woman is the evil seductress – and the poor, weak man had no power to resist her,” says Jennifer Pozner, a media critic and the author of Reality Bites Back, about women and reality TV. “That’s how Monica Lewinsky entered the fray.”

Megan Carpentier

   Reading Monica Lewinsky’s first-person Vanity Fair article, it’s hard not to go back to that place with her, the place where it seemed totally within bounds to talk about how she could “rent out her mouth” for a follow-up act (author Nancy Friday), or refer to her as “a dessert cart” (Camille Paglia), or write her off as “too tubby to be in the high-school ‘in crowd’” (Maureen Dowd).

   It wasn’t just Monica who read all that. The rest of us did, too – and we all wondered which of our bad decisions could stand up to that sort of scrutiny, and whether we could ever risk making any.

   It was hard – is hard – not to feel a kinship with Monica because (straight) women are intimately familiar with the idea that, if we make one wrong decision about a guy, it could mean the end of our dreams for ourselves. Pick up the wrong stranger at a bar and wind up dead. Trust the wrong frat boy to walk you back to your dorm, and wind up raped. Have sex once without birth control, and wind up pregnant, or with HIV or “that girl” filling her Valtrex prescription for the rest of her forever-alone life.

Jessica Valenti:

   Indeed, more than 16 years after Matt Drudge took Lewinsky’s affair public, “slut-shaming” and the public humiliating of women – for real or perceived sexual indiscretions – is as ubiquitous as the internet cat meme.

   But in 1998, we had yet to hear of 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons in Nova Scotia or 15-year-old Audrie Pott in California. Both teens were raped and afterward subject to online abuse calling them “sluts”. Both girls also killed themselves.

   In 1998, it wasn’t commonplace for men to release sexual pictures and videos of their exes onto the internet as a form of revenge. Or for celebrity men to harass their former partners by posting sonogram pictures of a supposedly aborted pregnancy. Or for death threats to have become simply an expected part of being female online.

   Monica Lewinsky could very well be the internet’s first humiliated woman – at least on the kind of national and international scale upon which scandals now so simply exist.

Amanda Hess:

   I understand why Lewinsky (and her editors) are interested in setting the record straight about her relationship with President Clinton. It must be annoying to read reporters repeatedly misinterpreting extremely private details about your life. But I’m not sure the question of whether Bill Clinton went down on Monica Lewinsky is particularly crucial to advancing our wider national conversation about sexism in politics. In fact, the media’s laser focus on Lewinsky’s enthusiastically consensual relationship with Clinton has always prevented us from having an honest conversation about the important issues of sexual harassment in the workplace posed by Clinton’s presidency. The media’s obsession with Lewinsky stole the narrative of Bill Clinton’s history of alleged sexual harassment from people like Paula Jones and Kathleen Willey, who were less enthused by his attention. And what about all the other White House interns who may have thought that, to bend the president’s ear, one must first pay lip service to other appendages? This is the bigger picture of harassment that Lewinsky—understandably caught up in her own victimization—may not be capable of seeing.

Rebecca Traister:

   In the fervid investigation and coverage of it, both women [Lewinsky and Hillary Clinton] got hammered—as slutty and frigid, overweight and ugly, dumb and monstrous. They each became cartoons of dismissible femininity—the sexually defined naïf and the calculating, sexless aggressor, characters who illustrated the ways that sex—sex that’s had by men as well—always redounds negatively on women. These two women weren’t at odds; they were in it together.

   Lewinsky writes of how her whole personhood, her whole adulthood was marked and shaped by the sexual actions she took in her early twenties. It may seem, in comparison, that Hillary—already powerful and accomplished by the time the scandal erupted—escaped comparatively unscathed; her power has surely only grown in the decades since the impeachment saga. But the legitimacy of that power is constantly questioned, by those on the right and on the left, based on the time her husband dallied with Lewinsky.

Michelle Dean:

   I feel sorry for Monica Lewinsky. I am not sure why it is apparently so difficult for people to simply say that, even now.

   […] I have the impression that sometimes people are afraid to say they feel sorry for someone because they think it means they can’t appreciate the nuances of the case, or that it would be condescending. Neither of these things are true; sympathy, like other high emotions, is a complicated thing.

   For example, feeling sorry for Monica Lewinsky does not entail the wholesale purchase of every argument she makes in that Vanity Fair piece. There is something off about the way she compares herself to Tyler Clementi, who was the subject of a really casual and thoughtless sort of cruelty that is a hallmark of young existence. What happened to Lewinsky had nothing to do with anyone’s youth. Many of the people Lewinsky identifies as her tormentors, after all—Matt Drudge, Maureen Dowd, a group of distinguished women writers (and Katie Roiphe) that the New York Observer (!) cringingly described as “New York Supergals“—were grown adults. Professionals of a sort, people who had an idea of the power of their pens.

Irin Carmon:

   In her Vanity Fair article, Lewinsky says she shudders to think what her predicament would have been if social media and Internet news had existed back then with the velocity and ferocity of today. But she would have had one advantage: A less cramped feminist discourse, one that isn’t solely occupied by either leaders of organizations that wanted access to the White House or writers who were most interested in professing their own sexual liberation. The sphere of discourse on social media isn’t perfect, but it has made the conversation more cacophonous, more accountable, and populated it with more diverse voices than the mostly white, upper-middle-class Baby Boomer women who were called upon to speak for feminism then. And the contours of that discussion are less beholden than ever to platforms like Sunday morning news shows or New York Times op-ed pages.

Maya DusenberySeveral years ago, Maya spent a good day reading all about the scandal, and it really was mind-blowing.




It’s hard to let go of the suffering caused by someone else’s wrongdoing. What barriers stand in the way of forgiveness—and how can we overcome them?

Laurie and Jamie sat in my office a few months ago, locked in an impasse all too common in couples therapy. The previous week, Laurie discovered that Jamie had done the seemingly unforgivable: He had had a brief fling with the new administrative assistant in his office while Laure was out of town visiting her ailing father. Jamie was genuinely remorseful, but he also carried a grudge of his own about Laurie’s repeated overspending on their credit card, despite his many requests to stay within their agreed upon budget.

We all know how painful it feels to suffer these kinds of hurts, betrayals, or abuse—and to have this pain harden into lasting grudges or resentments. I’ve spent 20 years helping couples like Laurie and Jamie recover a sense of trust after they have violated their vows or broken their agreements. In that time, I’ve found that helping people understand each other’s underlying motivations is crucial to repairing a rupture between them.

But I’ve also learned that helping people forgive each other is essential, even when there is good reason to resist. Indeed, study after study has suggested that being unable to forgive these past wrongs can wreak havoc on our mental and physical health.

Forgiveness is the practice of letting go of the suffering caused by someone else’s wrongdoing (or even our own). It does not mean excusing, overlooking, forgetting, condoning, or trivializing the harm or jumping to a premature or superficial reconciliation; it doesn’t necessarily require reconciliation at all. Instead, it involves changing our relationship to an offense through understanding, compassion, and release. Two decades of social psychology research have repeatedly demonstrated the emotional, physical, and social benefits of forgiveness. True forgiveness repairs relationships and restores inner well-being.

Yet we often find it hard to let go, forgive, and move on. According to research, even when we can feel compassion and empathy for the person who harmed us, we can remain stuck in fear or hostility for days, months, even years.

Why is something so good for us so hard to do? That’s the questions Ian Williamson at New Mexico Highlands University and Marti Gonzales at the University of Minnesota have explored through research on the psychological impediments to forgiveness.

In a recent study published in the journal Motivation and Emotion, Williamson, Gonzales, and colleagues identify three broad categories of “forgiveness aversion.” Traditionally, ideas for helping one person to forgive another have implied either expanding one’s empathy or compassion for the offender or “distancing,” not taking things so personally. But their research on forgiveness aversion suggests another approach: Forgiveness comes not necessarily by appealing to kindness or compassion but by addressing the victim’s fears and concerns. Williamson and Gonzales’ research suggests how to work with perceived risks to forgiveness and to move toward forgiveness in a safe and genuine way.

Below I offer a brief tour of the three barriers to forgiveness, along with ways to overcome them, drawing on research and my own clinical experience with hundreds of couples and individuals. Understanding these barriers to forgiveness can be very useful to clinicians and to anyone who has ever struggled to forgive—in other words, most of us.


The first block is “unreadiness,” which Williamson and Gonzales define as an inner state of unresolved emotional turmoil that can delay or derail forgiveness. People can feel stuck in a victim loop, ruminating on the wrongs done to them by another person or by life, and be unable to shift their perspective to a larger view, to find the meaning, purpose, lessons, and possibilities for change from the events.

Who is most likely to experience unreadiness? Williamson and Gonzales found that people’s tendencies to be anxious and ruminate on the severity of the offending behavior reliably predicted an unreadiness to forgive. People showed more reluctance to move toward forgiveness especially when they held a fear that the offense would be repeated,

How can we overcome the barrier of unreadiness? Williamson and Gonzales’ research validates the folk wisdom that “time heals all wounds” and establishes the importance of not rushing the process, not coming to forgiveness too quickly. Certainly the passage of time is an important factor in helping people get some distance from the initial pain, confusion, and anger; it helps the offender establish a track record of new trustworthy behavior and helps the victim reframe the severity of the injury in the larger context of the entire relationship.

Over the three months that I worked with Laurie and Jamie, I saw them confront and ultimately overcome the barrier of unreadiness. In taking that much time, Laurie was able to place Jamie’s transgression in the context of a 17-year marriage that had already survived even greater challenges than Jamie’s one night of out-of-bounds behavior. And over time, Jamie was able to trust the turn-around in Laurie’s spending habits, relaxing his vigilance about her every move.


1. Recall the moment of wrongdoing you are struggling to forgive. “Light up the networks” of this memory by evoking a visual image, noticing emotions that arise as your recall this memory, notice where you feel those emotions in your body as contraction, heaviness, churning. Notice your thoughts about yourself and the other person now as you evoke this memory. Let this moment settle in your awareness.

2. Begin to reflect on what the lessons of this moment might be: what could you have done differently? What could the other person have done differently? What would you differently from now on? When we can turn a regrettable moment into a teachable moment, when we can even find the gift in the mistake, we can open our perspectives again to the possibilities of change, and forgiveness.


The second block to forgiveness is “self-protection”—a fear, very often legitimate, that forgiveness will backfire and leave the person offering forgiveness vulnerable to further harm, aggression, violation of boundaries, exploitation, or abuse.

Who is most likely to experience self-protection? People who have experienced repeatedly harmful behavior, and lack of remorse or apology for that behavior, are most likely to resist forgiving the offending party, according to the research by Williamson and Gonzales. In fact, they found that even the strongest motivation to forgive—to maintain a close relationship—can be mitigated by the perceived severity of the offense and/or by a perceived lack of sincere apology or remorse. Refusing to forgive is an attempt to re-calibrate the power or control in the relationship.

According to their study, one of the hardest decisions people ever face about forgiveness is: Can I get my core needs met in this relationship? Or do I need to give up this relationship to meet my core needs, including needs for safety and trust? The ongoing behavior of the offender is key here. If the hurtful behavior continues, if any sense of wrongdoing is denied, if the impact of the behavior is minimized, if the recipient’s sense of self continues to be diminished by another, or trust continues to be broken, or the victim continues to be blamed for the offender’s behavior—if someone experiences any or all of these factors, then forgiveness can start to feel like an impossible, if not a stupid, thing to do.

How can we overcome the barrier of self-protection? “Victims may be legitimately concerned that forgiveness opens them up to further victimization,” write the researchers. “Intriguingly, when people perceive themselves to be more powerful in their relationship, they are more likely to forgive, perhaps because they have fewer self-protection concerns in their relationships with their offenders.”

In other words, people sometimes have understandable fears that offering forgiveness will be (mis)interpreted by the offender as evidence that they can get away with the same behavior again. People very often need to learn they have the right to set and enforce legitimate boundaries in a relationship. Forgiveness can also involve not being in a relationship with the offender any longer or changing the rules and power dynamics for continuing the relationship.

Only when Laurie stopped her overspending and came to respect Jamie’s limits on their monthly budget could Jamie relax his need for self-protection and offer genuine forgiveness for Laurie’s past transgressions. When Laurie could again trust the sincerity of Jamie’s remorse and apology over his betrayal, and trust that indeed the behavior would never happen again, she could relax her need for self-protection and forgive.


1. Identify one boundary you’ve been reluctant to set with the person you are struggling to forgive.

2. Clarify in your own mind how setting this limit reflects and serves your own values, needs, and desires. Reflect on your understanding of the values and desires of the other person. Notice any common ground between the two of you; notice the differences.

3. Initiate the conversation about limits with the other person. Begin by expressing your appreciation for him or her listening to you. State the topic; state your understanding of your own needs and of theirs.

4. State the terms of your limit, simply, clearly, unequivocally. You’ve already stated the values, needs and desires behind the limit; you do not have to justify, explain or defend your position. State the consequences for the relationship if this limit is not respected.

5. Negotiate with the other person what behaviors they can do, by when, to demonstrate that they understand your limit, the need for it, the benefit of it.

6. At the end of the specified “test” period, discuss with your person the changes in the relationship, if the limit was respected, or the next step in consequences if the limit is not respected. You may have to repeat this exercise many times to shift the dynamics in your relationship.


The third block is “face” concerns—what we might call the need to save face in front of other people and protect one’s own public reputation, as well as avoid threats to one’s own self-concept—i.e, feeling that “I’m a pushover” or “I’m a doormat.”

As social beings, we’re primed to not want to appear weak or vulnerable or pathetic in front of other people. We will protect ourselves from feeling inner shame in many ways, which may include a reluctance to forgive. Researchers have also found that hanging on to a grudge can give people a sense of control in their relationships; they may fear that forgiveness will cause them to lose this “social power.” If our concerns about saving face foster a desire to retaliate or seek vengeance rather than forgive, we may need to re-strengthen our inner sense of self-worth and self-respect before forgiveness can be an option.

Who is most likely to experience face concerns? People who feel their self-worth has been diminished by the offense, or who experience a threat to their sense of control, belonging, or social reputation, or even feel a need for revenge, are more likely to experience the face concerns that could block forgiveness. “To the extent that victims fear that they may appear weak by forgiving, and are concerned with projecting an image of power and interpersonal control, they should feel more averse to the prospect of forgiving,” write the researchers.

How can we overcome the barrier of face concerns? Very often people who have been hurt by another need to recover their own sense of self-respect and self-worth to create the mental space where forgiveness looks like a real option. We need to develop and maintain an inner subjective reality—a sense of self—that is independent of other people’s negative opinions and expectations of us. Good friends, trusted family members, therapists, or clergy can be very helpful in functioning as a True Other to someone’s True Self—they’re figures who can help generate a more positive sense of self.

Laurie and Jamie had NOT kept their struggles private from friends or family, so they didn’t have strong face concerns about social reputations. But they did need to move beyond the shaming-blaming behaviors prevalent when they first came into couples therapy. They had to work on not taking things so personally and on feeling appreciated and worthy in each other’s eyes again before they could move toward forgiveness.


1. Sit comfortably, allowing your eyes to gently close. Focus your attention on your breathing.

2. When you’re ready, bring to mind someone in your life in whose presence you feel safe. This person could be a dear friend, a therapist, a teacher, a spiritual figure, your own wiser self.

3. Imagine yourself sitting with this person face-to-face. Visualize the person looking at you with acceptance and tenderness, appreciation and delight. Feel yourself taking in his or her love and acceptance of you.

4. Now imagine yourself being the other person, looking at yourself through his or her eyes. Feel that person’s love and openness being directed toward you. See in yourself the goodness the other person sees in you. Savor this awareness of your own goodness.

5. Now come back to being yourself. You are in your own body again, experiencing the other person looking at you again, with so much love and acceptance. Notice how and where you feel that love and acceptance in your body – as a smile, as a warmth in your heart – and savor it.

6. Take a moment to reflect on your experience. You are recovering a positive view of your own self again. Set the intention to remember this feeling when you need to.

Forgiveness is not easy. It takes sincere intention and diligent practice over time. But overcoming reluctance, even refusal, to forgive can be facilitated by understanding these specific aversions to forgiveness, and by implementing strategies to address these barriers skillfully.

Linda Graham, MFT, is the author of ‘Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being.’ Learn more about her work at:




In a surprising move, a commencement speaker at Haverford College on Sunday used the celebratory occasion to deliver a sharp rebuke to students who had mounted a campaign against another speaker who had been scheduled to appear but withdrew amid the controversy.

William G. Bowen, former president of Princeton and a nationally respected higher education leader, called the student protestors’ approach both “immature” and “arrogant” and the subsequent withdrawal of Robert J. Birgeneau, former chancellor of the University of California Berkeley, a “defeat” for the Quaker college and its ideals.

Bowen’s remarks to an audience of about 2,800 that gave him a standing ovation added a new twist to commencement speaker controversies playing out increasingly on college campuses across the nation. Bowen faced no opposition, but chose to defend a fellow speaker who was targeted, calling the situation “sad” and “troubling.”

Rutgers University also held commencement on Sunday without former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who withdrew after professors and students there protested her appearance for her role in the Iraq war. Smith and Brandeis, too, saw the loss of speakers this year.

At Haverford, the controversy arose over Birgeneau’s leadership during a 2011 incident in which UC Berkeley police used force on students protesting college costs. A group of more than 40 students and three Haverford professors – all Berkeley alums – objected to Birgeneau’s appearance and receipt of an honorary degree, noting that many of them had participated in Occupy protests as well and wanted to stand in solidarity with Berkeley students.

They wrote a letter to Birgeneau, urging him to meet nine conditions, including publicly apologizing, supporting reparations for the victims, and writing a letter to Haverford students explaining his position on the events and “what you learned from them.”

Bowen – who made clear he took no position on Birgeneau’s handling of the Berkeley student demonstration – blasted the Haverford protestors’ approach.

“I am disappointed that those who wanted to criticize Birgeneau’s handling of events at Berkeley chose to send him such an intemperate list of “demands,” said Bowen, who led Princeton from 1972 to 1988 and last year received the National Humanities Medal from President Obama. “In my view, they should have encouraged him to come and engage in a genuine discussion, not to come, tail between his legs, to respond to an indictment that a self-chosen jury had reached without hearing counter-arguments.”

Bowen, however, also criticized Birgeneau’s response. Birgeneau, who is best known for his support of undocumented and minority students, declined the student demands in a short, sharply worded e-mail.

“I think that Birgeneau, in turn, responded intemperately, failing to make proper allowance for the immature, and, yes, arrogant inclinations of some protestors,” Bowen said. “Aggravated as he had every right to be, I think he should be with us today.”

Bowen also took aim at one of the student leaders of the protests, graduating senior Michael Rushmore, who called Birgeneau’s withdrawal from commencement “a minor victory.”

“It represents nothing of the kind,” Bowen asserted. “In keeping with the views of many others in higher education, I regard this outcome as a defeat, pure and simple, for Haverford – no victory for anyone who believes, as I think most of us do, in both openness to many points of view and mutual respect.”

Bowen, also the former president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, recounted several other instances in which speakers faced protest with a better outcome, including a commencement when he was Princeton’s president. George Shultz, a member of President Nixon’s cabinet during the Vietnam days in the 1970s, was due to receive an honorary degree.

“The protestors were respectful (mostly), and chose to express their displeasure, by simply standing and turning their backs when the Secretary was recognized,” he said. “Secretary Shultz, in turn, understood that the protestors had every right to express their opinion in a non-disruptive fashion, and he displayed the courage to come and accept his degree, knowing that many of the faculty and staff (a strong majority, I would guess, this person included) thought that the Nixon conduct of the Vietnam War was a tragic mistake.

“Princeton emerged from this mini-controversy more committed than ever to honoring both the right to protest in proper ways and the accomplishments of someone with whose views on some issues many disagreed.”

Bowen was one of three commencement speakers who addressed some 300 graduates at the morning ceremony and received an honorary degree.










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